Media Blogger Predicts Death of Sunday News Shows

Wednesday, 23 Apr 2014 11:46 AM

By Sharon Churcher

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Politico's media blogger is predicting the "death" of the Sunday morning public affairs shows that once set the tone in American politics.

According to writer Dylan Byers, "Meet the Press," "Face the Nation," and "This Week" have such problems attracting news-making guests that many influential Washington players no longer even bother to watch them.

Though the shows still attract a combined 9 million to 10 million viewers a week, Byers wrote that in today's fast-paced news and social media environment, politicians don't believe they are necessary.

Instead, the broadcasts have become a venue for lawmakers to push familiar talking points and for talking heads to exchange conventional wisdom.

Occasionally there is a headline-creating interview, such as when Vice President Joe Biden endorsed gay marriage on NBC's "Meet the Press." But such interviews have become increasingly rare.

"Meet the Press" has suffered the most dramatic meltdown in popularity. Once No. 1 on Sunday mornings, it is now in third place. The Washington Post reported this week that NBC hired a consultant to interview friends and the wife of the program's 43-year-old host, David Gregory.

The idea, network spokeswoman, Meghan Pianta told the Post, was "to get perspective and insight from people who know him best."

The Post story described the interviewer as a "psychological consultant." The network, in response to the article, described the person as a "brand consultant" in a statement to The Huffington Post.

Since the death of "Meet the Press" host Tim Russert in 2008, much of the blame for its problems has been put on Gregory. The hosts of the other shows, Bob Schieffer on CBS' "Face the Nation" and George Stephanopoulos on ABC's "This Week,"  also have been criticized for softball interviews.

But broadcasting veterans told Politico that the reality is that in an era of 24-hour news, the Sunday morning shows largely have lost their relevance.

"They're not the signature events they once were," said Tom Brokaw, who briefly moderated "Meet the Press" in 2008 after Russert's death. "I first appeared on 'Meet the Press' during Watergate, and it was a secular mass in Washington; the faithful never missed it."

One sign of the changed environment: The George W. Bush administration frequently supplied such guests as Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to the programs, looking to shape the national conversation.

The Obama administration largely avoids the shows — and experts say that is a smart decision.

"When I was at the White House and on the Hill, Sunday shows were either the exclamation point at the end of a week or the capital letter that began a new week. Today, they're part of the endless dot, dot, dots that are part of political coverage," Ari Fleischer, who served as George W. Bush's White House press secretary, told Politico. "There is so much news and so many outlets, even quality Sunday shows don't break through like they use to."

Lacking for willing participants, the shows increasingly turn to a narrower base of guests.  Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., and Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Dick Durbin, D-Ill., made a combined 38 appearances across the three shows in 2013, according to Politico.

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